The Smoke Signal

Legendary comic Don Rickles passes away

Kevin Valdez

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Don Rickles, a longtime comedian who was notorious for his abrasive humor in which his audience became victims of his verbal insults, died April 6 at his Beverly Hills home from kidney failure, said publicist Paul Shefrin. He was 90.

 

“Rickles would have turned 91 on May 8,” Shefrin continued. “Rickles also had great success as an actor and best-selling author. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Barbara, as well as their daughter Mindy Mann and her husband Ed, and Rickles’ two grandchildren, Ethan and Harrison Mann.”

 

Donald Jay Rickles was born in May 8, 1926 as an only child to parents from the Austrian Empire, Etta Rickles and her husband Max. He later grew up in the Jackson Heights area, attending Newtown High School. After graduating, he served in the Navy during World War II on the USS Cyrene (AGP-13) as a Seaman First Class, receiving an honorary discharge in 1946.

 

Rickles tried to follow his father’s footsteps as an insurance salesman until he decided to enroll at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, with his classmates including future Oscar-winners Jason Robards, Grace Kelly and Anne Bancroft, wanting to become a dramatic actor, but could only find small roles on television after graduating.

 

“I was too big for the screen,” he said in an interview with USA Today in 2012. “There was no director that knew how to handle me. My comedy, my strength, my aggressiveness, nobody knew how to handle that. I (auditioned for) all the big (Broadway) shows, but never got the part, so I started to get discouraged.”

 

Later on, he decided to become a stand-up comedian in order to supplement his income and developed a unique style of insult comedy by returning fire at hecklers and calling them names like “dummies” and “hockey pucks.” The audience enjoyed his slandering more than the material he make up, so he decided to add them into his main act.

 

While performing at a Miami nightclub in 1957, Rickles noticed Frank Sinatra in the audience and told him that he enjoyed his performance in the movie “The Pride and the Passion” and added, “Make yourself at home, Frank. Hit somebody.” Sinatra burst out laughing and encouraged other celebrities to see Rickles’ acts, becoming one of his biggest supporters.

 

Sarcastically nicknamed “Mr. Warmth,” Rickles’ career became well-known after appearing as a guest numerous times on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and “Late Show with David Letterman” while headlining casinos and nightclubs from Las Vegas to Atlantic City, New Jersey. He was even a regular on “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast,” serving as the roastmaster in an episode where the host was the roastee. Rickles won an Emmy in 2008 for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or a Music Program for his appearance in a documentary about himself, “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project,” and a Johnny Carson Award for Comedic Excellence in 2012.

 

As an actor, Rickles made his film debut in the 1958 movie “Run Silent, Run Deep” and had prominent roles in “Kelly’s Heroes” and “Casino.” Perhaps his most famous film role is the voice of Mr. Potato Head in Disney’s “Toy Story” franchise. However, he didn’t record his lines for the upcoming fourth movie that’s set for a 2019 release because the script is still being written.

 

Rickles is preceded in death by his only son, Larry, who died back in 2011. After a private funeral service, he was buried at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California.

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Legendary comic Don Rickles passes away